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In general, small-to-midsize SUVs are pretty conservative in terms of their styling and design. One exception, however, was the Dodge Nitro. Mechanically, the Nitro was related to the rather pedestrian Jeep Liberty. It was a unibody design, but the non-independent rear suspension, standard rear-drive configuration (with four-wheel drive optional) and large-displacement V6 engines all pointed to the platform's truckish roots.
Yet the Nitro had a retro look that was all its own, with a high waistline, big wheels and aggressively flared fenders. Unfortunately, this Dodge's beauty was only skin deep. Its handling was subpar and its interior disappointed due to a lack of quality. Used SUV buyers can do better than the Dodge Nitro.
Used Dodge Nitro Models
The Dodge Nitro was a five-passenger midsize SUV produced from 2007-'11. It was based on Jeep's Liberty, but the Dodge was tuned a bit more for on-road use and offered a large, optional V6 engine. Otherwise, they are very similar.
The base engine was a 210-horsepower 3.7-liter V6 paired to a four-speed automatic (a six-speed manual was standard for 2007 and '08). Rear-wheel drive and four-wheel drive were available on all Nitro models, with the latter being a part-time system with high- and low-range gearing. A 260-hp 4.0-liter V6 paired to a five-speed automatic was standard on the R/T, Detonator and Shock trims.
Originally, the base trim was known as SXT, but was changed to SE for 2009, then Heat for '10. Regardless of what Dodge called it, the base Nitro came standard with air-conditioning, an auxiliary audio jack and a roof rack. The Heat at least added some visual flair, with 20-inch chrome-clad rims versus the originally standard 16-inch steel wheels. Features available on the upper trims (SLT and R/T originally, then Detonator and Shock for 2010) included a sunroof, leather upholstery, heated seats, navigation, upgraded sound systems, and in later model years, Bluetooth.
In Dodge Nitro reviews, we found acceleration to be disappointing with the 3.7-liter engine, but adequate with the 4.0-liter V6. There wasn't much of a fuel economy penalty with the bigger V6, either -- city and highway estimates for the two engines were almost identically poor. Customers interested in extracting maximum performance from their Nitros should gravitate toward the bigger power plant. However, handling and ride quality were below average even after Dodge altered the suspension tuning for '09.
Inside, the Nitro had an industrial feel, though faux aluminum accents brightened the place up a bit. Materials quality was unimpressive for this class, and a few plastics stand out as unacceptably low-grade. Cargo space was decent among compact SUVs, at least, and the Nitro SLT trim level came with a slide-out cargo floor with tie-down points known as Load 'n Go.